Caught between Scylla and Charybdis.
Author’s Note: This post was coauthored by Jack and NovaSeeker.
Length: 2,300 words
Reading Time: 8 minutes
February’s theme has been about the Mating Marketplace. In these posts, Jack and I described how modern western culture has created a gynocentric Socio-Sexual Marketplace (SMP), and how the Marriage Marketplace (MMP) has been subsumed by the secularized SMP.
- Σ Frame: The Centrality of Sex in Western Culture (2021 February 8)
- Σ Frame: The Lopsided Liberalized Mating Market (2021 February 17)
- Σ Frame: The Sexual Market IS the Marriage Market (2021 February 22)
- Σ Frame: The Christian Marriage Dilemma (2021 February 26)
The conclusions of last two posts listed above introduced us to the Christian Conundrum, which results from the following realities:
- In the interests of preserving the spiritual integrity of the home, Christians should only marry other Christians.
- Under morally orthodox Christian teaching, Christians should not have sex outside of marriage.
- Under contemporary social practice, namely the linking of the SMP and the MMP, including for most Christians, men and women will face substantial difficulties securing an attractive mate for marriage without having sex prior to marrying.
This post will examine the nuances of this conundrum.
There’s No Clear Path to Marriage!
This conundrum poses a difficult situation for Christians living in the West. The options boil down to two basic choices – to conform to scriptural mandates or not, and two basic outcomes – having a functional marriage or not. The soul snap comes when we see that the choices and the outcomes have no definite correlation. That is to say…
- Some people will follow the rules and get lucky in love and marriage, albeit a very small number of them. Fellow bloggers Mike Davis, Ed Hurst, and Derek Ramsey are excellent examples.
- Others will follow the rules and lose out on a mate (as Jack did for a good many years), or else have their marriages eventually blow up over some permutation of the issue of sex (or the absence thereof) in the marriage. This is what happened in John Mitchell’s and Sharkly’s marriages, and the sexual issue played a role in my own marriage too.
- Some will break the rules and end up in solid marriages. This is the case of frequent commenters Scott, Elspeth, and Cameron, as well as a few others who are too busy enjoying their marriages to shadow an internet blog.
- Others who break the rules will end up divorced, however, because at the end of the day women are fickle by nature and the law permits them to act on that, period. Jack can attest to this, as well as many of our readers.
And there are various permutations of this as well. In my own marriage I followed some of the rules (my ex was n=0 when we married, although I was not, so I fornicated, but not with my ex prior to marriage and not with anyone else, either, after meeting my ex), in some ways, but not in others (married 3-4 years ahead of schedule for highly educated people prior to education being finished rather than after, and with a 5-year age gap which was already becoming unusual by the late 90s when I married). I am sure there are numerous other such mash-up permutations in people’s actual lives as well.
Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet in terms of what will guarantee finding a mate or a durable marriage. If you do go the chaste route, though, the first step — that of finding a mate — is clearly a LOT harder.
This conundrum is why many people adopt an approach that one of my Mormon colleagues once jokingly described to me as follows: “It is easier/better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” That is, people proceed in a way that appears to offer the best chance at the successful goal they want to reach (a long term stable and happy marriage), even if they have to flout the moral rules in their 20s to do so, banking on the availability of the divine forgiveness later on, so as to get a “win win” situation for everyone. They get their marriage, their children, and the numerous blessings that go along with both, including their sexual satisfaction. God gets to display the glory of His grace upon their repentance. They get their salvation. It’s all good, right?
The trouble is that the process of living your 20s that way changes you, in subtle ways. Sins damage us in ways that are hard for us to predict in advance, and that differ between individuals. It can be hard to ever spiritually recover in a genuine way from having deliberately lived sinfully, knowing full well you were flouting the rules.
It can be challenging to actually have a repentant attitude, later in life, about these sins which led to a happy marriage. People may express regrets about the sin, but actual repentance is much harder, because this would involve hating what they did to such a degree that they would always see their marriage as somewhat tainted by the serious sin that created it — which, in my experience, most people in this situation do not do, for rather obvious psychological reasons. So true repentance here is certainly possible, as a divine gift, but can be hard to manifest once one has deliberately committed a serious sin with results that one sees as blessings.
The upside, of course, is that in the meantime, you probably will be better skilled at maintaining a decent marriage in today’s culture, given that the ambient culture’s expectations apply to most marriages today, whether Christian or not.
It’s terrible that this is the choice we are faced with, but this is why culture matters. I wish there were a more upbeat solution to this conundrum, but I don’t think there is.
Case Study 1 — Ancient Roman Culture
The Roman culture of antiquity had many more sexual distractions than ours did (male Roman citizens had no difficulty in obtaining sexual access), which made it very hard for people to become Christian, especially men. Becoming a Christian meant foregoing sexual access not only to temple prostitutes, but also to one’s own slaves, of both sexes, as well as concubines, in the case of even more well-to-do male Roman citizens. And of course the early Christians were also being persecuted, and executed in some cases, for their faith. Most Christians compromised with the Romans to some extent to avoid the worst of the persecution, and most were received back by the Church when persecution later relaxed.
So the problem that the early Christians faced was the opposite from ours with respect to women having power and men having sexual access (that is men had sexual access and women had little sexual power, apart from a few women in the aristocratic class), but it’s nevertheless similar in that God’s way is an alternate reality compared to the mores of the broader culture. The Biblical mandates will always run counter to the larger culture, because the culture is focused on happiness and immediate gratification, while God has a different ideal based on how He designed human beings. It so happens that this difference between the culture and God’s order can, at times, become so misaligned that adherence to the faith in its fullness results in great personal suffering, and this is what makes the faith so difficult in its demands when the culture is set against it. I think we are living in such an age today, but it’s obviously much less dramatic and more prurient than was the case in Roman times.
Just as in Roman times, the benefits of being disobedient to scriptural mandates have now become larger than life. Some Christians are suffering for the faith, others are compromising in an effort to put their lives together, and trying to come back in repentance later. Some are chucking their faith altogether. We see a mixture of approaches taken by individuals in the response to a culture that forecloses access to sexuality and marriage for many people who follow God’s rules rigorously.
Case Study 2 — John and Nikole Mitchell
Back in January, I wrote about the now rather infamous case of Nikole Mitchell’s sexual metanoia in a series of three posts.
- Σ Frame: The Slow Train Wreck – A Cautionary Tale (2021 January 18)
- Σ Frame: Lessons from the Train Wreckage (2021 January 25)
- Σ Frame: The Train Wreck – Speculative causes, influences, and alternate outcomes (2021 February 1)
The story of John and Nikole’s marriage and its aftermath is a harrowing one, because it illustrates two difficult truths to men:
- Vetting has limited benefits and no guarantees.
- Conforming to God’s outline of Christian living doesn’t necessarily have a sweet ending.
You can meet a rather chaste woman (either of the virginal or “born again virgin” variety), or a woman who has some N count but isn’t, at the time, that focused on sexual vetting prior to marriage, because she has aligned with Christian values about sex and its proper value in life. But … there’s no guarantee that later in the marriage she won’t become envious of other women who are getting better sex with sexier guys, guys who are better at sex, guys who have bigger c0cks (for some women, not all of them), and then decide that she wants better sex, that she deserves better sex, and so on. In fact, the culture blares this messaging at women non-stop.
And, for those of you who are reading this and saying to yourselves “well, you just need to vet harder”, I will state it again: Your wife can be n=0 from a religious family without divorce, no obvious red flags and … at some stage she just flips the script and decides she finally agrees with the cultural messaging, after all.
The point is, no matter whether you’ve spent all your life’s efforts to walk the straight and narrow, or whether you’ve lived it up before you settled down, their is very little certainty. Such is the gynocentric sexual culture in which we live.
The World vs. The Faith
Christians are living in a very difficult time. There is no way to square this conundrum. Pre-marital sex is immoral, plain and simple. It always will be. In our culture, the prevalence of pre-marital sex poses a tremendous impediment to getting married, and it can also work to blow up marriages, even for people who follow or come close to following the traditional Christian moral rules around sex. But it is what it is. The moral rules aren’t based on the culture.
Many, many minds have spent a great amount of time, energy and grey matter on this conundrum in the last 40 years or so. There isn’t an answer that is both faithful and practical. There are an abundance of answers which are mostly one or the other, and so most pick one or the other as between faithful and practical, and we all know which of those two most pick.
Churches are in total denial about this conundrum, as I have written before. Pastors and elders won’t address the issue because they are afraid to condemn a common social norm that violates doctrine. The leaders of churches should be talking about how illicit sex detracts from sanctification and holiness, but the social expectations run deeper than the call to holiness. They mostly just look the other way and pretend extra-marital sexual relations aren’t happening across the board, while knowing full well that it is. No layperson in the church is talking about the widespread abuse of God’s gift of sex, because those who are participating in it want to keep it hidden in the closet. They don’t want to be called out. Others who aren’t participating in the cultural melee are kind of left in the dark, simply because this subterfuged sex-culture is never brought to their attention, and they too, are afraid to investigate the rabbit hole.
There isn’t really a workable solution for Christians, unless they, as a community, elect to be entirely counter cultural and play that out. It CAN work in those situations, where the woman is actually motivated by God and the fear of Him, enough to separate herself from the central importance of sexual satisfaction that the culture blares at her all day every day. But these are few and far between. They are outliers of outliers. They are not the basis of a culture, but of a micro-subculture – one that the vast majority of Christian men are unlikely to find.
Although women will never come out and say that they want to postpone marriage, or that they want a divorce, just so they can screw Chads without limits, it is the unspoken desire and motivation in their hearts. Instead, they will hamsterize all kinds of solipsistic justifications for what they do, “I haven’t yet found Mr. Right”, “Finding one’s self”, “developing a career”, YOLO, etc. Men, in turn, need to be aware of this, and weigh their own approach to the problem carefully, keeping in mind their own situation.
In later posts, we will be addressing various approaches and options in more systematic detail to help readers work through the thought process in their own minds in a more systematic way.
- Σ Frame: Eve Ill Idolaters (2018 September 8)
- Σ Frame: Why do Christian women have the reputation of being whores? (2019 February 23)